The critical role of European funds

23 May 2013

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in future will have a key role in deciding how European funds for adult learning and skills are spent in local areas. Technical guidance on how this will work has just been issued, which NIACE will be responding to.

The guidance provides a preliminary outline on the new structure and key priorities for European Funding from 2014-2020, although member states and the European Parliament are still reaching final decisions. It is proposed that LEPs will be responsible for designing and delivering strategies on how best to use the funding to meet local priorities in line with overarching priorities set out in EU regulations. Each LEP will receive a notional allocation of funds for the following priorities: innovation, research and technical development; support for small businesses; the low carbon economy; skills; employment; social inclusion.

NIACE is calling for LEPs to use this opportunity to consider a broad, wide-ranging and inclusive local vision for learning and skills. A vision that supports everyone in the community to gain skills for employment and to progress in work, and that aims to strengthen families and to address social inclusion for those furthest away from the labour markets.

In response to the guidance NIACE is asking for a number of clear outcomes as we move into a new system:

  • For LEPs to consider the age demographics of the local areas and to specifically identify the skills needs of older learners.
  • For Government to enable new freedoms and flexibilities in European funding for learning to ensure local skills gaps are met quickly and efficiently; for example, elements of qualifications or discrete learning objectives.
  • For each LEP to use the new rules to consider using 5% from the Structural and Investment Fund Growth fund for community-led developments to enable communities to bring forward local projects to meet local needs. This supports the social inclusion aim and will link with and add value to the new structures for community learning in localities.
  • To consult and build in community and learner voices in designing and reviews local plans.

Penny Lamb, NIACE’s Head of Policy Development said:

“We are delighted that DWP is making the system more flexible and we are calling on LEPs and their partners to use their Structural and Investment Fund Strategies to energise the local learning offer. This is an outstanding opportunity for LEPs to meet their social inclusion responsibilities and also to plan to equip employees and future employees with the broadest range of problem-solving and independent-thinking skills to meet future challenges and to increase productivity.

“The overwhelming message from the national events and celebrations during Adult Learners’ Week is that adult learning in all its forms transforms lives through many different journeys. Angus Gray, Head of the European Social Fund Division at the Department of Work Pensions summed this up perfectly at Monday’s National Awards Ceremony ‘Learning in an adventure through tough obstacles.’

“We must address the learning needs of those with lowest levels of skills and those who have had the least access to learning in the past – our research shows this group of adults are the least likely to learn in the future. Addressing these issues is a shared responsibility between government, employers and individuals.”

NIACE’s detailed response, including case studies and relevant research will be published by the end of May.